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Mid-West Humanists send submission to Department of Education on strategy 2016-2018

The new government that formed in 2016 made a Program for Government. This includes chapter 10 (page 86) on Education.

The Department of Education and Skills asked people for submissions on the Program, to contribute to the Department’s strategy for 2016 to 2018. The strategy was online, but is not available since the date for receiving submissions. They published a survey form with their set of questions. They set Wednesday 08 June 2016 as the last day for submissions.

The Mid-West Humanists have sent a submission early on 08 June 2016.

Our submission concentrates on secular education, how this is more important than a greater variety or diversity of patrons for schools (that plan is in fact a mistake); and on how the Minister and Department of Education and Skills can make all National Schools fairly secular by instructing those schools to follow the System of National Education (as their leases oblige them), Rule 69 of the Rules for National Schools of 1965, and Article 44.2.4 of Ireland’s Constitution.

Submissions will be available on the Department’s website, but we also show our submission here.

From: Mid-West Humanists

Submission to the Minister for Education and Skills on the Strategy for Education and Skills 2016-2018.

Written by Peter O’Hara for the Mid-West Humanists

7th June 2016

The Mid-West Humanists

Contact us: email info@midwesthumanists.com


The Mid-West Humanists (MWH) are a group of people who meet monthly, since 2008, people tending not to have religion and not to believe in any god or in an afterlife.

People attend from counties Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary.

People attend the MWH in order to meet similar people.

People who attend the MWH share concerns that society and the State and its services do not take proper account of people having no religion and no belief in a god or an afterlife.

Of State services that do not take proper account of people who have no religion, and indeed discriminate against people with no religion, the most crucial service is Education.

Public Campaigns

The Mid-West Humanists have campaigned to the Constitutional Convention in 2013, about 6 aspects of the Constitution that treat people with no religion less well that those who do have a religion.

The Mid-West Humanists have campaigned to the Minister for Education in 2014 about how the State funded schools should be secular. The MWH campaigned to the Minister for Education in 2015 that the National Schools, as required by the Leases of National Schools, be operated in a secular manner. The MWH gave their submissions in 2014 and in 2015 on printed paper in person to the Minister and in addition by email. Those are linked to this submission.


Submission to the Minister for Education and Skills on the Department of Education and Skills’ Strategy for Education and Skills 2016-2018.


We submit the following after reading the Program for a Partnership Government and the Questions that the Department asks on the computer survey form for these submissions.

We reply to Questions 1(a), 2, and 6 in the first list of questions, and to the questions in Section 3 Diversity and Choice for Parents of the 8 policy subjects.

The Mid-West Humanists’ submission is about schools being fair to all pupils, whether their parents subscribe to a religion that has a very large number of adherents, or to a religion with few adherents, or who have no religion. State services must be fair to all people. Attending school is compulsory, so the State’s duty is strong.


Answers to Questions

  1.  How well does the Education service meet the needs of children and students?

1(a)     What improvements can be made within existing resources

1) The Minister and the Department can (at no cost, except the cost of sending the instructions to the schools) return the National Schools to their largely secular original method of operation.

The Minister for Education, as typically the 3rd Party in each Lease of a National School, has a duty under each such Lease to ensure that the Trustees operate the school according to the system of National Education (Trustees are the 2nd Party; usually Trustees are clergy of a religion).

Each lease writes that the system of National Education has the object of affording combined literary and moral instruction, and separate religious instruction, to children of all persuasions in the same school. Each lease says it is a fundamental principle of the system that the school shall make no attempt to interfere with the particular religious tenets of the pupils there.

Each lease writes that the Minister (prior to 1922, the Commissioners for National Education) has power to make rules for national schools, and that the Trustees must follow such rules. This is the legal authority for the Rules for National Schools 1965, and previous and subsequent Rules.

The authority of the Minister to make such Rules would surely not allow for any rules that would be contrary to the system of National Education, which each lease states apply to a National School. Rule 68 of the 1965 Rules looked to be contrary to the Leases’ statement about separate religious instruction, and to the principle not to interfere with the religious tenets of the pupils. It is fortunate that the previous Minister cancelled this rule, which was outside the power of the Minister under the leases, and could have led to litigation against the Department.

Rule 69 of the 1965 Rules remains. Rule 69 requires that a pupil must not receive, and must not be present at, religious instruction of which the pupil’s parents or guardians have not approved.

Many National Schools are disobeying Rule 69. Not only to give to a child religious instruction of which the parents of guardians have not approved, but even to have the child in the classroom, fails to follow Rule 69. Rule 69 is entirely in harmony with the system of National Education, as described in the leases, which are the legal foundation of the schools. Further, it is the duty of the Minister of Education and Skills to make rules, and, consequently, to make schools obey these rules.

The Constitution, Article 44.2.4 states that… legislation…shall not… be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

The Minister can send a circular to all National Schools to remind them to follow Rule 69, and to illustrate the meaning of following it – not to even have a child in the same room when religious instruction without parents’ approval is being given.


2) The Oireachtas can (at the cost only of printing Bills and of Dáil and Senate time) repeal Section 7 (3) (c) of the Equal Status Act.

The Constitution, Article 44.2.4 states that legislation…shall not… be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money … Accordingly this sub-sub-section is not constitutional. It is wiser for the Oireachtas to repeal laws that are clearly unconstitutional than to await cases in the Supreme Court.

Corresponding sections, of the Equal Status Act on discrimination on admission to training as a teacher in colleges, and of the Employment Equality Act on employment of teachers, that permit what would otherwise be legally discrimination against teachers or aspiring teachers on the grounds of religion or of lack of religion, can also be changed for just the cost of printing the Bills and the Dáil and Senate time.

2.       Comment on work currently being undertaken by the Department in your area of interest and/or expertise. (What are we doing well, what could we do better)?

The last Minister for Education and Skills began the process of returning the National Schools to their original state, which was fairly secular, by removing Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools 1965. This rule was outside the power of the Minister in 1965. The Department has removed that rule, and left Rule 69 in force. This was a very sensible decision. The Minister and Department can build on this, as we wrote in reply to Question 1, by properly enforcing Rule 69.

6.       Any other observations that you would suggest the Department should consider in the formulation of our strategy for education and skills 2016 – 2018.

The proportion of the population of Ireland who have no religion is gradually increasing. Further, people are becoming less afraid of complaining about poor or discriminatory State services. More people are going to complain about how the State allows schools to operate, with State money, contrary to Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution (see our reply to Question 1(a)). This affects people who have religions that have small numbers of adherents, and people with no religion.

There are no legal barriers to a parent taking a case against the Department because of the Minister’s failure to make National Schools follow the System of National Education as stated in the schools’ leases, or because of failure by the Minister to ensure that the Rules are compatible with the Leases, or because of failure to ensure that the schools follow the Rules.

There is similarly no legal barrier to a parent taking a case where the child is not attending a National School, but is attending any other school that receives public money, but the child is denied the right to attend, or denied the right not to receive religious instruction. Note that, for this to apply, the Constitution does not require that the school be entirely funded from tax, only that it receives some public money.

The barrier to a parent suing has been the reluctance to involve their child in litigation, or create a difficult reputation for their child, when the priority for parents is to arrange a reasonable school for the child. But, as the number of parents in this position increases, the chances increase that a parent will take such a legal case.

It will be wiser for the Department to make the schools operate in a secular manner, before any such litigation. It will save the Department and us taxpayers a lot of money.

3. Diversity and Choice for Parents

3(a) Comment on the approach contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government (are we capturing the essential issues, are there additional matters we should take into account).

The Program for Government definitely does not capture the essential issue. There are numerous religions in Ireland, and a substantial number of people who do not have any religion, as well as one religion that has a very large number of adherents. It is not possible for the State, in this case the Department of Education and Skills, to provide a service (schools) separately for each of these sets of people. There is no sense in any case in dividing the service of education by religion. The State does not choose to divide any other service by religion.

(Some hospitals and other services within the Health Services have religious organisations in charge. Nevertheless, although some of these operate rules that prohibit health services that are entirely legal in Ireland, they are not permitted to refuse admission because of a patient’s religion.)

There are about 3200 national (primary) schools in Ireland. Of these, we understand that about 1800 schools are each the sole school in their district, so that a child living within that school’s district typically would have to travel of the order of 12km to the next nearest school. These schools are smaller than the average school and do not together teach half of Ireland’s primary pupils. However, towns with between 2 and 4 schools mostly do not contain more than one type of school, so that it may be that half of Ireland’s primary pupils do not have a choice of more than one type of school.

Even in towns and cities with many more schools, a choice of schools with a type corresponding to each religion, and to no religion, does not result in every child being close to a school that is reasonable for that child.

Clearly the plan for a diversity of schools (which clearly means a diversity of religious orientations in separate schools) cannot provide schools that are reasonable for all children.

The sensible plan for State schools is to have one type of school that is reasonable for any child to attend, whatever is the religion of the child or its parents. This means that the school must teach about many religions and about the style of life that has no religion; and that, if the school does help with classes to teach the doctrines of particular religions, such classes could be in the school building but outside the ordinary school timetable.

The obligation on the Department of Education and Skills is high. The State compels children to attend school. Thus, much more than for a service which people could choose to take or not take, the State must make the schools, to which it compels children to go, reasonable. The State makes you go to school: the State must treat all people fairly there.

Some people object to this suggestion, and say that they want to have a school of a particular type for their child. The State has provided this request to a large group of the people, but by doing so it has made it harder to provide an equal service to all parents and children. The sensible conclusion is that the State should not provide schools adapted to fit with one religion, or with any other limited number of religions.

As we submitted to the previous Minister in 2015, and as we write now in reply to Question 1(a), the National Schools are by their leases fairly secular, and if the Department saw to it that the schools actually operated according to their leases and to Rule 69, every national school would be close to sufficiently secular to not discriminate against any child and to not infringe any child’s human right to education.

Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution applies also to second-level schools, and the Department can instruct all schools to adhere to that article.

3(b) How should progress on Diversity and Choice for Parents be measured?

The Mid-West Humanists instead consider that progress on schools being run in a secular manner should be measured. The Department’s inspectors should ask how schools follow Article 44.2.4 and Rule 69.

3(c) What would you consider to be the priority actions and outcomes in this area?

To write to all National Schools that they must follow the System of National Education as their leases state, and to follow Rule 69, with details as to the exact meaning of this. See our reply to Question 1(a).

To write to all schools that receive public money that they must follow Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.

Outcome – to receive reports that all schools follow those rules; and that complaints of discrimination on admission and of receiving unwanted religious instruction cease.


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